Saturday, May 23, 2009

No country for women

"She would never have been born if her parents had not wanted a daughter." This copy went along with a small photograph of Indira Gandhi as a young girl. It was one of the prize-winning entries nearly two decades ago in the Ashok Jain Awards for Public Awareness Advertising. It was also a direct attack on the growing practice of female foeticide in India, driven by the then-new medical technology called amniocentesis. This added to the already rampant practice of female infanticide in some parts of the country and led to a sharp fall in the sex ratio biased against females.

The 2001 Census shows that the sex ratio is continuing to drop at an alarming rate all over the country though the degree might differ from one state to another. According to some estimates made by Population First, a non-government organisation that works on population and health issues in India, approximately five million female foetuses will be aborted every year over the next five years. Child sex ratio statistics in the 0-6 group has been showing a continuous decline over the last four decades, growing sharper since 1981.

The current all-India sex ratio in the 0-6 group is 927:1000, which is a dangerous sign of a demographic catastrophe on a nation-wide scale. This fall, from 976:1000 in 1961, is alarming because the country is registering an upward growth in many other areas. This underscores that economic prosperity and education have no bearing on the sex ratio, or, in other words, the traditional preference of sons over daughters. It also points to the fact that modern medical technology is being used for purposes that are at complete odds with the stated goals of healthcare.

Testing times
In India, amniocentesis was first used to detect abnormalities in the unborn foetus in 1975, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. As soon as news spread that these tests could also detect the sex of the foetus, doctors at AIIMS noticed that most of the 11,000 couples who volunteered for the test were interested only in knowing the sex of their unborn baby and had no interest about genetic abnormalities. Women, who already had two or more daughters, asked for abortion, legalised in 1972.

Today, the three chief pre-natal diagnostic tests that are being misused to determine the sex of a foetus are amniocentesis, Chronic Villi Biopsy (CVB) and ultrasonography. Amniocentesis is meant to be used in high-risk pregnancies, in women over 35 years. Amniocentesis is advised in the following cases: when the pregnant woman has a history of one abnormal child - mentally or physically challenged; when either parent has a congenital defect; when the couple falls within the 'high-risk' category of producing a defective child; when a previous child has been born with Down's Syndrome or neural tube defects; when parents have hereditary and metabolic disorders; to detect haemophilia, a rare blood disease; and when sex has to be determined for sex-linked hereditary diseases.

Amniocentesis tests can detect 1500 genetic abnormalities, thus helping in advising parents to decide whether they would like to have the child carried till full term or whether they would prefer to get it aborted.

Similarly, CVB is used to diagnose inherited diseases like thalassaemia, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. Ultrasonography is the most commonly used technique as it is non-invasive and can identify up to 50 per cent of abnormalities related to the central nervous system of the foetus. But sex determination has become its preferred application. This is despite the fact that using diagnostic techniques for sex-selection is discriminatory and violates the fundamental right to equality, not to mention the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act - PC and PNDT Act of 1994.

The Act disallows the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex determination; it says that such techniques can be used only for detecting genetic or metabolic disorders, chromosomal abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders. The Act adds, "No person conducting prenatal diagnostic procedures shall communicate to the pregnant woman concerned or her relatives the sex of the foetus by words, signs on in any other manner."

The Parliament enacted the Act after the disturbing child sex ratios in the 1991 Census figures led to consistent campaigning on the issue by women's groups and other civil society groups across the country. The Act has been upheld by the Mumbai High Court in the case of Mr and Mrs Soni vs. Union of India and CEHAT, 2005. The judgement states: "The right to life or personal liberty cannot be expanded to mean that the right to personal liberty includes the personal liberty to determine the sex of the child which may come into existence. Right to bring into existence a life in future with a choice to determine the sex of that life cannot in itself be a right."

Read More: http://www.indiatogether.org/2008/apr/wom-nowomen.htm

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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